So that’s three times Jack Duckworth has took my breath away. The first time was one dark Monday night in the mid seventies. At the climax of Coronation Street, Jack Duckworth, rakish cellar man, embraced Bet Lynch, the then siren of the street, in a red hot polyester clinch that caused static to burst from the TV screen. To my younger mid seventies self, this was the nearest I’d seen to full on sexual intercourse. I was transfixed. From then on, my life was mapped out. I had no greater desire than to be a saucy layabout who got by with minimum effort and maximum style. Fuck Steve McQueen or him out of Haiwaii Five O. I wanted a more attainable role model. I wanted a dimpled pint glass and twenty Embassy Number One. I wanted a pair of glasses with a bit of elastoplast on the side. I wanted a window cleaning round I never had to actually go on.
Because lets face it, when Coronation Street was in it’s unmissable hey-day, it was largely down to the brilliant tragic-comic characters. And there was none who fitted that bill better than Jack. Hapless, feckless, reckless; a chancer, a dreamer, a romantic rogue with a song on his lips and a bookies pen in his top pocket. Jack went beyond national treasure – he was like every precious ideal this country ever held dear – cups of tea, moaning, loafing about.
A saucy layabout who got by with minimum effort and maximum style
I don’t remember when he came into Coronation Street. It seemed like he’d always been with us. He is part of the family, all our families. Or at least anyone who has cared about British culture for the last twenty odd years. We’ve been with him every step of the way down that street. Weaved alongside him drunk, singing Sinatra songs on the way back from the Rovers with a fish supper in his hand. Stood back with him to admire his daring use of exterior stone cladding in the eighties. Helped him pick up his spirits after evil pantomime son Terry had scattered them on the floor around him like torn up betting slips. We’ve helped him frantically on with his trousers as he escaped another returning husband. Stood him a round in the Rovers. Clasped his shoulder and gazed proudly at his pigeons flapping their way home over the grey rooftops of Weatherfield.
The second time Jack Duckworth took my breath away was when he appeared on This Is Your Life. It was Vera’s life that was being celebrated. At the finale, Jack sang You Are The Wind Beneath My Wings. In most instances that I’ve been subjected to a surprise attack from this song, I’m out of the door before the intro is over. But there was something about Jack’s manner and bearing that compelled me to watch. By the time he had finished I was wailing my eyes out like a heart-broken two year old.
The third time Jack Duckworth took my breath away was tonight. To be honest. I’d forgotten he was due to die. I just caught the end of it. I’ve not watched Coronation Street for years. The first thing I thought was, Christ he looks old. And then he died. In his slippers, in his chair. Having a proper rest, at last. Sleep tight Jacko.